Tuesday, February 28, 2012

A Shopping Spree at M. E. C.

Disclaimer: This blog may appear to be an advertisement for Mountain Equipment Coop, but I have no connection to the store.  And if you read carefully, you will see that I have not tested this stuff on a real motorcycle trip yet.

A few years ago, some friends of ours took us to the MEC store in Toronto.  It had a remarkable variety of camping and outdoors gear, and we went on a shopping spree.  I don't remember much of the other stuff, but I do remember buying an MEC Wanderer 2 tent.  It was the first expensive tent I ever bought, and what I like about it is that it stands up to wind and rain very well, and has a fly that completely covers the tent and the ground outside the front and back doors.  It's just a two person tent, but I think it really is big enough for two of us, (yes, I have tested it many times) and easy enough for one person to put up and take down.

But enough about the tent I bought years ago.  I will be bringing it on the trip to BC this summer, but we need a more comfortable sleeping mat and sleeping bag that will be really small when packed up.  I was having trouble locating this pair of items until I stumbled across the MEC website, and better yet, noticed they now have a store in London, Ontario.  I would much prefer to go there than to fight my way in to downtown Toronto.  Today we drove down to take a look.

I think we found exactly what we were looking for and more, although I will be the first to admit that these items need some real field testing before I can give a recommendation.  But on price, and immediate appearance, and in-store tryouts, I was very impressed.

First item was the sleeping mat.  There is a type of mat that is very similar to the first air mattresses I used until the mid 1980's.  They are updated by having some insulating materials inside the mat, and having a screw-to-close valve similar to the Thermarest type.  They also have much thinner material than the rubber/fabric air mattresses of old, so they roll up very small when deflated.  When inflated, they are only about 2.5 to 3 inches thick, so they don't really take a lot of air to blow up.  They are definitely not self inflating, though.  When I unrolled mine at home, after an hour it was still lying there seemingly empty.  Finally, I took about 5 minutes to blow it up with my mouth. It also says on the tag "Not self inflating", so I don't know how I ever got the idea it might be partially self inflating. This pad, which is a "Big Agnes", has no pump, either built in or external.  It was about $130, which is very expensive for an inflatable mattress, but it seems very comfortable, so may be worth it.  I gave up on the old (and uncomfortable in my opinion) air mattresses years ago when Thermarests first appeared, and have not gone back since.

Incidentally, the last sleeping mat I bought at Canadian Tire a week ago, had a slow leak which I fixed myself with some JB Weld glue applied to the leaky spot area while the bag was trying to suck in air.  It seems completely fixed now, I slept on the mat three nights in a row, and actually had to let air OUT twice because it is more comfortable with less air than it wants to suck in naturally.  (It's a foam filled self inflating pad, and yes it likes to suck air.  One of only two things on Earth that when you say "this sucks" it's a good thing.  The other being a vacuum cleaner, naturally)

Next item was a sleeping bag.  I was looking for a down filled bag with a barrel shape, which is not as confining as the mummy shape that I have seen up till now.  My own sleeping bag is a North Face down filled mummy bag, it's very warm and packs really small, but it was over $300, and most of the time I just throw it over myself like a blanket because it's too hot and I can hardly move when it's zipped up.  At MEC today, we found a down filled barrel shaped bag that will be long enough for either one of us to use, and was under $100 on special.  I guess it was a model that was being phased out or something.  So it was inexpensive, it feels thick and soft and warm, it packs really small (especially with an extra cost, four-strap compressing bag - also bought at MEC.)  So it was exactly what I wanted - sometime soon I will find out how it works overnight in a tent.

Then we came across two lucky finds, that I did not notice on the Internet, because I needed to see them in the store to know that they were perfect for motorcycling.  Ever since I have been doing long motorcycle tours, I have wanted something to put over my gloves and boots to keep them dry.  In the rain, I have rain pants, rain jacket, and a full face helmet. They can keep most of me dry, but on a "normal" bike like my Vulcan 900, my feet and hands still get wet and cold.  So MEC had the perfect things.  A pair of waterproof nylon overmitts (to go over the gloves), and waterproof nylon overboots - that do up with velcro at the sides and back-  These overboots have a toe pocket, and other than the toe pocket, the rest of the sole of the boot is exposed.  These things were designed for bicycle touring, where you may have your feet cleated to the pedals.  Anyway, both are exactly what I have been looking for for decades - I have tried many alternatives that all failed for one reason or another.  And finally, Although I know they pack really small, I still need to field test these things for water proofing.  It almost makes me want to go riding in the rain to do that.



Picture: The MEC cycling shoe covers - note that the picture is taken with the covers wrapped over a heavy soled boot (not included).  Also, the tops are a bit small for some of the larger motorcycle boot tops.  Mary Ann and I both needed XXL because they seem to be designed for bicycle shoes.  And actually they only had one pair of XXL in stock, if they don't get more soon, I suppose we can at least order a pair online.  With the mitts, a medium fits everything from my heaviest winter gloves to my summer gloves, so I got a pair of medium.


  1. Update at 3 AM. The Big Agnes sleeping pad holds air so far. It is extremely slippery, though. I'm on a flat surface and my pillows had just about walked off the bed. Apparently Big Agnes makes sleeping bags to go with this mattress, that have a pouch in the bottom where you slide it in, and so you can't slip off.

    Also, it is a bit noisy as you turn around. And because there is no internal foam, you can't kneel down comfortably on the bag - your knee will come in direct contact with the ground as the air rushes to other parts of the mattress. It can be painful if you were expecting some cushioning effect, like a Thermarest.

    But I think it is more comfortable than a thin Thermarest, about the same as my 3" thick self inflating Broadstone pad from Canadian Tire. However it has to hold air or I'll be right on the ground. They do include a repair kit with glue in the sack.

  2. Well, I suppose you have the right idea ... checking all this stuff out thoroughly before your trip.

    But - why does one get the impression that you're enjoying the shopping experience as much as the eventual journey? ... LOL!

    Being a rather 'active' sleeper, I've not had much luck with inflatables (including self-inflatables) and have always returned to my old Ensolite pad. Not as much cushioning, but at least I don't end up with half my body on the ground :-(

  3. I may be having more fun shopping than on the actual trip. But according to my rule, the fun of the trip is twice the fun of shopping for it. Usually I don't enjoy shopping too much, but yesterday the type of stuff I was buying was going to give me a significant amount more room in our luggage while hopefully adding to our camping and riding comfort. Part of the fun was finding a new MEC store in London, I'll probably be going back there just to look around.

    I remember watching "The Long Way Round", and it seems to me that Ewan and Charley also enjoyed the shopping for the trip - although we didn't see them actually shopping, just receiving the new equipment. And some parts of their trip were not enjoyable at all.

    So far I have spent about $1000 on stuff for the trip, the main items were sleeping bag and mattresses, new drive belt for the Burgman, new fuel gauge for the Kawasaki Vulcan, and passports. I think I have managed to keep the costs down compared to my original plan. I was considering Givi lockable hard cases for the Burgman, and a locking trunk for my bike. But if the mounting brackets are not designed right, it could mean trouble on the trip. So instead, I bought a new duffel bag and bungee cords, and a smaller mattress and sleeping bag. I have a list of about 150 items altogether that are needed for the trip, and I've got most it already already. In one case, I got something free, the notebook computer. Although I did order a second battery for $70.